history of CSA
History of Child Sex Abuse
Dr. Rob Hale
major source on this subject is "The History of Childhood" by Lloyd
deMause. This article quotes from that work.
DeMause starts the
account with the statement "This history of sex in childhood presents even
more difficulty than usual in getting the facts .... Even so, there is evidence
enough in the sources available to us to indicate that the sexual abuse of
children was far more common in the past than today, and that the severe
punishment of children for their sexual desires in the last two hundred years
was the product of a late psychogenic age in which the adult used the child to
restrain rather than act out his own sexual fantasies."
The question arises
- is a society where there is much reporting of paedophilia a sick society, or
one which can recognise its own sickness?
describes the life of children in Greece and Rome, stating "Growing up in
Greece and Rome often included being used sexually by old men. Abuse was less
frequent among aristocratic boys in Rome, but sexual use of children was
everywhere evident in some form. Boy brothels flourished in every city, and one
could even contract for the use of rent-a-boy service in Athens. . .. Even where
homosexuality with free boys was discouraged by law, men kept slave boys to
abuse so that even free-born children saw their fathers sleeping with boys....
Plato's idea was that children should be held in common. However Aristotle's
objection was that when men had sex with boys, they wouldn't know if they were
their own sons, which Aristotle describes as most unseemly."
Sexual abuse by
pedagogues and teachers of smaller children may have been common through
antiquity, although laws were passed to try to limit sexual attacks on children
by adults: "Consider the case of the teachers. ... It is plain that the
lawgiver distrusts them.... He forbids the teacher to open the schoolroom or the
gymnastics' trainer the wrestling school before sunrise and he commands them
close the doors before sunset; for he is exceeding suspicious of their being
alone with a boy or in the dark with him".
must be remembered
that widespread sexual abuse of children can only occur with at least the
unconscious complicity of the child's parents."
It would seem that the responsibility was placed with the father. He quotes
Plutarch: "Whether we should permit the suitors of-our boys to associate with
them and pass their time with them, or whether the opposite policy of excluding
them and shooing them away from intimacy with our boys is correct. . .''.
However he declares
"Men that have proven their worth should be permitted to caress any fair lad
they please. Lovers who lust only for physical beauty, then, it is right to
drive away, but free access should be granted to lovers of the soul."
However the abuse of
very young children was frowned upon in Rome. "Suetonius condemned Tiberius
because he taught children of the most tender years whom he called his "little
fihes'' to play between his legs when he was in the bath. Those which had not
yet been weaned but were strong and hearty he set at fellatio.'''
The favourite sexual
use of children however was not fellatio but anal intercourse. Intercourse with
castrated children was open spoken of as being especially arousing. Castrated
boys were favourite voluptates in Imperial Rome, and infants were castrated in
the cradle to be used in brothels by men who liked buggering young castrated
practice became prohibited by law, but effectively continued.
introduced a new concept - childhood innocence
child has not tasted sensual pleasures and has no conception of the impulses of
manhood." In the Middle Ages children are portrayed as asexual beings and little
reference is made to them being abused. However, servants are usually blamed.
"Even a washerwoman could work wickedness. Servants often show you tricks in the
presence of children and corrupt the chief part of infants.'''
That some change in
the use of children was going on in the Renaissance can be seen not only in the
rising number of moralists who warned against it, but also in the art of the
time. Nonetheless, there are clear evidences of overt sexual abuse of children
at the highest level. The fullest account is of the childhood of Louis XIII of
France when he was the Dauphin. The accounts provided are of a totally
sexualized childhood with an obsession in the child's genitals shown by both
parents and courtesans.
The campaign against
the sexual use of children continued through the seventeenth century. It took an
entirely new twist: punishing the little boy or girl for touching its own
genitals. This reached its height in the nineteenth century. The sexual use of
children after the eighteenth century was far more widespread among servants and
other adults and adolescents than among parents.
Freud's decision in
1897 to consider most reports by patients of early sexual seductions as fantasy
has been said to have put back the recognition of child abuse by sixty years. It
was only in the nineteen sixties and nineteen seventies that the problem was
again recognised as being based in reality.
This précis of
DeMause's work was written in l 974 and no doubt current psycho- historians
would add considerably.
Why do child sex
offenders arouse such strong reactions in us? A study of the literature reveals
some interesting papers from sociologists, psychologists and criminologists.
Quite a lot of the discussion is around justice and social attitudes to it in
general. There is also literature on scapegoatism and reactions to mass murder,
as well as violence in general. Of direct relevance to sexual abuse is the
"Child at Risk'' by Aneke Meyer, published in 2007 by Manchester University
Press. Her concern is to understand what she describes as the "moral panic'' and
the role of the media in instigating and sustaining moral panics. She asserts
that the media systematically manufacture fear and create a folk devil, an
entirely negative figure. A view also asserted by McCartan (Med.Sci.Law 2004)
whose study confirmed that the public is in fact quite well informed about
paedophilia, its recurrence rates, practices and the influence of the media.
Also relevant is
"Disowning our Shadow: A Psychoanalytic Approach to Understanding Punitive
Public Attitudes'' by Maruna, Matravers and King (Deviant Behaviour 2004).
In their introduction they comment that "Numerous observers have suggested
that public punitivness is more a symptom of free-floating anxieties and
insecurities, resulting from social change than a rational response to
crime'problems. "We argue that these public concerns might be better understood
by drawing on the insights of psychoanalytic theory".
The paper proposes
that punitiveness may be based on:
a sense of
inferiority or shame at our own insignificance
guilt over our own role in the creation of the crime -
and admiration for the criminal exploits
sadistic impulses to
guilt regarding our
own sexual desires
Using psychoanalytic theory, they then address the topics of inferiority
and shame, scapegoatism and guilt, envy and admiration, sadism, sex, guilt and
The problem is
largely conceived in terms of violence, but towards the end there is the helpful
the instantiation of the sexual modernity's most suitable enemy involves quite a
considerable degree of denial - in particular, of empirical evidence about sex
offenders and offending. What we know about sex offenders suggests that rather
than being a discrete offender group, they bear significant resemblance to other
offenders, and indeed the male public at large (Grubin 1998). A significant
amount of empirical evidence testifies to the shared guilt that lies beneath
punitive responses to sex offenders. Surveys note that sexual interest in
children exists in non-convicted populations such as male university students as
well as among paedophiles (Abel et al. 1987; Briere and Runtz 1989). Estimates
of sexual assault, rape by previously-known assailants, and rape within the
context of war identify sexual violence as a prevalent rather than an aberrant
behavior (see Simon 2003)."
"Of course the
ultimate denial relates to ambivalence towards the sexuality of our own
children. For Freud, of course, the prohibition of incest is oho of a number of
repressive restrictions placed on men and women by civilization. However, in
late modern civilization, child sexual abuse is a perennial moral concern, and
ambiguous feelings (fuelled, perhaps, by eroticization of children in art and
the popular media) are projected at a safe distance onto "stranger" offenders
and paedophiles. Again this involves the denial of empirical evidence that
indicates that some 80% of child sexual abuse is carried out by offenders known
to their victims (Grubin 1998)."
paper from these authors compares punitive attitudes to crime with personal
characteristics, with some very interesting transcripts of verbatim
interviews.However this is almost exclusively concerned with acquisitive and
A final paper of
relevance is "Vigilance and Vigilantes: Thinking Psychoanalytically about Anti-paedophile
Action'' by Jessica Evans (Theoretical Criminology 2003). Although
ostensibly about vigilantism, this paper goes on to examine the conscious and
less conscious motivation of the vigilantes. Three excerpts give a flavour of
Rapson's own view (in
Silverman and Wilson, 2002: 133 and endorsed by them) about the causes of-the
protests was that, in part:
were targeting paedophiles to distract attention from the sex abuse that goes on
within families here. It was a way of assuaging their own guilt. One woman who
joined the mob has a son who had been arrested for sexual assault. But she said:
'Oh that's different, he's not guilty - and he's not a paedophile."'
Wilson's observations brings us closer to the argument that l want now to pursue
( although the latter's formulation suggests the workings of a conscious
conspiracy, a view that my account inevitably complicates). My argument follows
from the observation that in the minds of many of the protesters under
consideration, the distinction between abuser and victim, perpetrator and
innocent bystander was fairly permeable and therefore unconsciously blurred.
This can be demonstrated by paying attention to what, as we will see, were the
likely multiple identifications made by key protesters, given their history as
sexually abused women, evidence for which is in part provided by the generally
confused and endlessly contested interpretations of the 'truth' of the events.
In particular, 1 draw attention to the general equivocation among the protesters
concerning what was to be counted as 'reliable knowledge'. What is of particular
interest from a psychoanalytic viewpoint is the deep-seated ambivalence of the
protesters towards the idea that truthful information should be a prerequisite
While the overt
threat as the women perceived and expressed it came from unknown men, in the
specific case of Katrina Kessell and some of the other women interviewed (see
Silverman and Wilson, 2002 129) the focus on the image of unknown men was likely
to be and on the disavowal of the existence of real men they had known who had
abused and asserted power over them. It was more bearable to locate an external
object as the bearer of bad internal objects than to face the conflict that
occurs when one has an attachment to the person that shames and
humiliates. This involved a displacement through the mechanism of projection.
Kessell did know she had been abused by someone close to her and had not
consciously forgotten this; in fact she draws attention to it in the many
interviews she give to the press (see Gillan 200; Ferguson, 2001: 2). But,
as is the nature of disavowal, in the split between belief and knowledge where
the former predominates, tie real danger is perceived as external nonetheless.
However, she would
later tell Silverman and Wilson that the list had been drawn up from 'word
of mouth and facts gleaned from the Internet' (2002: 136). We call surmise then,
that the 'list' was for Kessell and her fellow protesters an object in fantasy -
functioning in a way that echoes the expectations placed on the offenders
register by the Government. Like a talisman, it would arm her with good,
powerful knowledge that would enhance her capacity to expel the paedophile
How then can we
understand what is an almost universal attitude to paedophilic acts? I would
venture the view that in our dreams we all steal, deceive, lie, kill, are
sadistic and are sexually perverse. But in real life we do not act on these
fantasies and they are not the central part of our organisation. By its very
nature tile paedophilic act transgresses boundaries, there is a collapse in tie
differentiation between childhood sexuality and adult sexuality. As a member of
a psychotherapy group I ran put it:
paedophiles are called sex abusers but we are not - we abuse and destroy a
child's right to their own sexuality".
When lecturing on
paedophilia I have been impressed by the universal reaction of disgust followed
by revenge. This reaction of disgust is I would propose visceral, sub-served by
its own neurological circuitry and in essence instinctual.
Our reaction has a profound effect on the abuser, vigilantism
increases social isolation and the propensoity to act - Willis, Levenson and
Ward catalogue the evidence. ( J Fam Viol2010)
- Dr. Rob
Press to return to the